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How the pandemic response has failed young people: Housing insecurity

August 26, 2021 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


This guest column was written by Deja Morgan, a member of the Youth Action Board of Community Legal Services.
As a young Black renter who relocated to Philadelphia in 2019, my introduction into “adulthood” began with experiencing unemployment after losing a job that didn’t pay a liveable wage, battling predatory and negligent landlords, and as a result, dealing with housing insecurity throughout the entirety of the pandemic.

Housing insecurity was already an issue for young people prior to the pandemic with one in 10 young people between the ages of 18 to 25 already experiencing some form of homelessness over the course of a year.  Renters were already struggling to stabilize their housing, but especially young and Black renters. Before the pandemic, half of all renters were cost-burdened, using 30 to 50% of their household income to pay their rent.

In this Youth Justice Project policy report, I chose to write about housing insecurity and the lack of support for young renters who have been left out of federal rental assistance programs. The availability of these assistance programs are very limited, with only one in four eligible households receiving any support. Support for young renters is deprioritized, with youth only likely to receive assistance if they are a part of a family unit. 

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, shelter is considered one of the most foundational elements in order to meet your basic needs. Only then are you able to access other needs such as a sense of safety and security, love and belonging, and being able to tap into creativity, sense of self, and personal growth. When young people do not have access to shelter, we remain stuck in survival mode, unable to focus on growing, building a sense of community, and thinking about our futures. I understand this on a personal level.

Throughout this entire pandemic I experienced housing insecurity and my life has felt totally destabilized as I’ve been trying to reach a sense of safety and security.

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Since February, every few weeks to a month I have been in a plotting mindset, trying to figure out where I will lay my head next. Meanwhile, I am still expected to show up to work and fulfill assignments and meet deadlines, all while constantly being on edge about securing housing.

Throughout the process of writing this report, I struggled to narrow down what I wanted to highlight on the topic. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to dissect the issues of housing insecurity while I was going through it myself. It felt triggering to be reminded of how uncertain and unstable my life felt at the time and subconsciously avoided accepting my reality while I started to drown at work.

I struggled with balancing how to care for myself while also meeting my responsibilities at both of my jobs. Sometimes, deadlines would approach and I would scramble for more time just to try to figure things out. I blamed myself for not being able to show up at full capacity and it caused me to become really hard on myself. I had to ask for more support and time with this report than I expected and felt like I was letting down my cohort as we continued to push back deadlines.

Although I was blessed to have the support of the Youth Justice Project team, this is a real problem amongst Black women professionals who struggle to ask for help, identify and admit that they are experiencing burnout, all while continuing to work themselves beyond the point of exhaustion.

Not to mention Black people suffered uniquely during this pandemic. We either struggled with unemployment, or continued to work in environments where we were forced to carry on with business as usual all while watching unarmed Black women, men, children and queer folks be senselessly killed by the police. We continued to be surrounded by death as we watched the coronavirus ravage our communities with a disproportionate impact.

Being Black in this country means being forgotten. Being young in this country means being forgotten. These are intersecting identities I have that make it abundantly clear that in this country I am not seen or supported.

I hope that readers understand that housing is a basic human right and not a luxury. It doesn’t make sense that securing a home takes this much suffering.

Young people are supposed to be the “future,” but how can we even reach that future with no solid support to help us gain full autonomy over our lives?

Our report not only highlights how young people have been failed through inadequate policies, but demands that we be included in spaces where we are the ones making decisions about our lives.

Read the full report


Generocity will publish individual columns by Morgan’s co-writers, Madison Nardy and Alexi Chacon, on different topics covered by the report tomorrow and Monday, August 30, 2021. On Tuesday, August 31, we will publish a concluding column co-written by all three.

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